Saturday, October 31, 2009


Salmon Pasta w/ Leftovers

To recap yesterday's blog, I was in the mood for salmon pasta and since there was no Yankee game I could prevail upon Richard to make it for me.  I knew he wouldn't mind because he loves salmon, so I took out those pieces of salmon tail he always cuts off the fish and freezes when making salmon for guests. (He does this to keep the filet servings the same thickness throughout).

Well, as I'm sure you recall, he came hobbling home from his early morning tennis game with a torn or pulled calf muscle... no standing over a hot stove for him.  On the menu was RICE:  Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. 

But, but, but... I had already taken the fish out of the freezer!!!   And, and, and... I wanted salmon pasta.  So, so, so... I had to make it.

The refrigerator was pretty bare, so I decided I'd cook up whatever I found.  We had leftover peas and onions from the pork dinner I made the night before and some wilted iceberg and romaine lettuce.  And there was a bit or arugula still alive in our herb garden.  We had whole wheat spaghetti,  fresh garlic cloves, rosemary (also from our garden), parmesan cheese, fresh lemons and EVOO.  What else does one need?  Well, a lot, but I didn't feel like going to the market.

So I boiled the pasta, sauteed the salmon in EVOO with a fat clove of garlic and rosemary, then add the peas and lemon juice.  Then for a side veggie dish, I tore up the lettuce and threw it in another skillet with EVOO, added the onions and arugula, sprinkled it with salt and pepper and did some more sauteing...  I plop the pasta in a bowl, poured the lemon juice, EVOO garlic sauce over it, grated some parmesan cheese and tossed.  Then added the salmon on top, then garnished with rosemary sprigs.  I put the side of lettuce and onion in a bowl and brought everything to the table and served it up.

Was it good?  Actually it was delicious.  Was it gourmet?  Not in the slightest.  Was it cheap?  Very.  Pennies a plate.

Friday, October 30, 2009

A BRIEF MUSE ... tennis & salmon pasta


While Richard went off this morning to play tennis, I sipped coffee and perused the internet, killing time before I had to leave for my manicure appointment - a vanity indulgence I'll probably keep up even if I'm homeless living in a cardboard box on a beach in Santa Monica... 

Anyway, while I sipped that coffee and whiled away the hour, I remembered the Yankees were off today as the series picks up in Philadelphia tomorrow.  So... Richard can cook dinner.  Yay!  What should I take out of the freezer?  I checked - still sipping - and saw we had some salmon bits and pieces - great for a salmon pasta.   I prefer his shrimp pasta with rosemary, lemon, EVOO, garlic and I forget what else - but it seemed like a salmon day, so out came those bits and pieces. 

Evening menu set,  I was preparing to leave when Richard hobbled in - literally.  It seems my own personal Roger Federer tore a muscle in his calf.  Having done that a few times in my 'dancer' days, my mind immediately traveled back to those ice packs strapped to my leg.  I hated them.  His tennis partner, however, suggested heat.   Well, maybe conventional wisdom had changed, so... after reading every 'remedy' on-line, ice prevailed and Richard is now on our bed, leg elevated, ice pack pressed to his calf.

Guess who's making the salmon pasta tonight?  That's a rhetorical question...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

HASH... sauteed not smoked

HASH… sauteed not smoked

I’ve had a love affair with hash since I was a kid (the kind you eat, not smoke – though that hash and I did have an affair to remember some years ago). Hash was my favorite ‘leftover’ meal. Well, I did like those leftover cold eggplant parmesan sandwiches my mom put in my lunch box, but I digress.

Using one of those old meat grinders you screw to a counter top, Mom would grind up leftover lamb or roast beef, add potatoes and peas and I don’t know what else and sauté it all in a skillet on the stove. Then she’d poach some eggs, plop them on top and serve. She always cooked the eggs just right… firm whites and runny yolks. I’d pop that yolk with a fork and let it run into the hash, mix it all up, add a little salt and I was in hash heaven.

After my dad died mom went back to work in advertising on Madison Avenue (my very own Peggy in “Mad Men”).

Commuting from Bayside, Queens, Long Island into Manhattan didn’t allow her time to cook as much, so I took over making our basic week day dinners for our little family – my brother, my mom and me. I broiled steaks, baked frozen French fries and heated up Campbell’s Pork & Beans. I fried or boiled hot dogs and heated up Campbell’s Pork & Beans, broiled ham steaks or swordfish and heated up Campbell’s Pork & Beans… a favorite of mine was broiled lamb chops, frozen spinach or peas, and heated up Campbell’s Pork & Beans… Have you caught the theme here? My brother pleaded with my mother to stop buying Campbell’s Pork & Beans. But the one meal he did love was my hash and eggs. Not my mother’s hash, but Broadcast’s canned corned beef hash (I can still sing the jingle – those Mad Men were good!). What did we know?

When I got out of college and moved into Manhattan, I still made that canned hash and eggs. For years I worked at “Black Rock,” CBS’ headquarters on 6th Avenue and on the ground floor was a wonderful restaurant named “Ground Floor” where I would often go to lunch. Not just because it was convenient, but because it had hash and eggs on the menu. So whenever I would crave this ‘leftover’ marvel, I didn’t have to wait til I could open a can to heat up for dinner. I could have it mid-day!

Sometimes I still crave hash and eggs, but Richard won’t touch it (dog food, he says), so I’d wait until he was on the road with some TV show he was working on and I’d run to the market and buy a can of hash (I’d also buy skirt steaks for alternate dinners because he won’t eat those either, but I digress yet again). On those nights, I’d heat up that canned hash and plop that poached egg on top, light a little candle on the coffee table and dig in while I watched Peter Jennings deliver the day’s news. Again, hash heaven.

Recently I was browsing through one of my many design magazines (my other life) and saw an article about chefs who surf in Coastal Living ( One of these chefs was Micah Fields of the Venice California restaurant named… HASH! It was a sign! A real chef making hash! If a gourmet chef named his restaurant ‘Hash’ – then maybe Richard would pay attention to this delectable delicacy. I gave him the article which included a recipe for “Day-After-Thanksgiving Hash” and last night Richard indulged my hash habit.

Of course, it’s wasn’t the day-after Thanksgiving, but I was so excited he was willing to do all that slicing, dicing and chopping, I agreed to bake a boneless, skinless chicken breast for him to use instead of leftover turkey.

The recipe also called for fried eggs instead of poached. Fine with me. Over easy, please!

Did Richard like the results of his slicing, dicing, chopping, sautéing, frying labor? Yup, he did. Hash is no longer ‘dog food.’

And after dinner, I was in such hash heaven afterglow, I craved a cigarette. Ha. Just kidding.

So, if you’re wondering what to do with your Thanksgiving leftover turkey besides making turkey soup, we both recommend a little hash, sautéed not smoked (well, unless you have smoked turkey).


Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 16 minutes

2 cups chicken broth
1 cup diced sweet potato
1 cup green beans, cut into 1/4 –inch pieces
2 Tablespoons butter
1 small onion
1 Granny Smith apple, diced
1 Washington apple, diced
1 Gala apple, diced
1 pound smoked turkey breast, diced (or my ingredient: whatever leftover turkey meat)
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh sage or
         2 teaspoons dried sage
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
12 large eggs, cooked to desired doneness

Bring chicken broth to a boil in a medium saucepan; add sweet potato, and cook 3 minutes. Add green beans; cook 2 minutes or until sweet potato is barely tender and beans are crisp-tender. Drain.

Melt butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and apples, and cook, stirring often, 6 minutes or until apples begin to soften. Add potato mixture, turkey, and next 3 ingredients; cook stirring often, 5 minutes or until apples are lightly browned and turkey is heated through.

Divide hash among 6 plates; top each with 2 fried eggs, and serve immediately.
Makes 6 servings.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009



I really love meat, but more and more of our friends are choosing fish and because we love cooking for them (well, Richard does – I like making ‘pretty’), we’re always looking for exciting new fish recipes. Happily, my friend Lise does fish really, really well and the last time I was at her house for a meeting of our ‘girls only’ Book Group (well, it used to be a book group, but after a ‘hundred’ years together, it’s now an “eating, sipping wine, catching up with dear friends” group) she made amazing halibut in garam masala – a dish so Indian you could almost hear a sitar sounding from the sauce. She has a big wonderful kitchen, so we all stood around the stove and watched her put the finishing touches on the dish. Then, after our first bite, we demanded she give us the recipe. Well, I demanded she give Richard the recipe. It’s really that good even though it’s not meat. So…

…when our friends Kathy and Gary came for Saturday supper, Richard decided to make “Lise’s” halibut. Of course, he’s never made this dish AND has never even tasted it, but if I loved it … me the meat eater and someone who has a limited appreciation of Indian food… it had to be good.

Before we sat down at the dining table, we gathered on our deck for appetizers. Again, the night was beautiful and the little lights in the trees twinkled off the surface of the pool and the candles on the table gave off that lovely candle glow that makes us all look softer – even younger.

However, one thing I’ve learned from entertaining often, not everything always goes according to plan. Maybe it rains when you’ve planned an outdoor barbeque. Maybe you burn a dish or run out of wine. But, usually your guests will roll with the punches. Case in point…

Kathy opted to start the evening with a martini. I make fairly good ‘dry’ martinis (Kathy makes great ones!), so I was a little nervous when I gave her a ‘shaken not stirred’ cocktail made with barely a drop of dry vermouth and more than a drop of vodka from Ukraine. Only after I presented the drink, complete with a green olive, did I learn that her martini of choice was made with gin. Oops – faux pas #1. I had totally forgotten that the original martini invented so many years ago was made with gin and that some people still preferred gin even in this “designer vodka” era. I immediately insisted on remaking the drink, but to no avail. She laughed. How could she not have a martini made from vodka that friends had schlepped all the way back from Kiev?

Out on the deck, we dove into the cheese (again with truffle oil) on baguette and the tuna dip I’ve written about before. And keeping with the night’s Indian “theme,” Richard also made a healthful, quite delicious curried carrot spread (recipe below) served with water crackers and crudités. The guys sipped Kenwood Reserve pinot noir and I had Bogle chardonnay, a really nice, moderately priced, buttery wine.

Because we were having such a good time Richard lost track of time by the time he went inside to cook. Timing is everything. To complement the fish, he had planned to make brown rice, but that takes almost an hour to cook (faus pas #2- even he makes mistakes – thank God!). What to do? The appetizer course had just about run its ‘course’… Couscous! It only takes minutes and is “Indian.” Sadly, our pantry was bare of couscous. But we did have quinoa which only takes 15 minutes and would be done by the time he finished the fish. Saved by the quinoa. So as he solved his mini-crisis (unbeknownst to us) and finished preparing the night’s meal, the rest of us finished our drinks and enjoyed the night air.

When he called us to the dinner table I just had to smile – not only did the food look beautiful on the plates, it smelled delicious (recipe below). When we took our first bites, we kvelled (I’m not Jewish, but this Yiddish word describes how we all reacted – with joy).

For dessert Richard departed from India and served a cinnamon pound cake he had made that morning. But Kathy and Gary had also brought as a host/hostess gift a Victor Benes cake from a very popular bakery here in L.A., so Richard decided to serve both and freeze the leftovers. On top of the pound cake, Richard put a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a thick strawberry sauce he had made earlier which sat proudly on one side of the dessert plate facing a slice of the Victor Benes cake with caramelized fruit.

The dessert ‘beverage’ – Vosges Haut-Chocolat, La Parisienne dark hot chocolate with Tahitian vanilla bean. This had been a ‘hit’ at an earlier dinner party, so why not serve it again? It was a delicious way to end the evening. I think our friends agreed.


3 cups slice carrots
¾ cup chopped onion
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons olive oil or cooking oil
1 Tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 15-oz can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
¾ teaspoon salt
Thinly sliced green onion (optional)

In a medium covered saucepan cook carrots in small amount of boiling water – about 15 minutes or until very tender. Drain.

Meanwhile, in small skillet cook onion and garlic in hot oil until tender. Stir in curry powder and cumin. Transfer carrots and onion mixture to food processor; add beans and salt. Cover and process until smooth.

Transfer to serving bowl. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours (or up to 3 days). Makes 3 cups
Top with chopped green onions and serve with crackers or crudités.


Approx. 6 Tablespoons garam masala spice mix
(recipes for spice mix can be found in the pictured cookbooks)

6-8 Tablespoons Olive oil
Halibut – four 4-5 oz pieces (dinner for 4)
4 Tablespoons of chopped garlic (or fewer)
6 shallots, thinly sliced lengthwise
3 Tablespoons of chopped ginger
1 red pepper, chopped finely
4-5 thin stalks of lemongrass, about 3 inches long
1 can of coconut milk, NOT low fat
1 small can of tomato sauce
juice of one lime
1 Tablespoon ground cumin
1 Tablespoon ground coriander
1 Tablespoon curry powder
1 Tablespoon ground cardamom
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
rice pilaf or couscous or quinoa or brown rice

Rub halibut pieces with garam masala spice mix, let sit
Brown & cook halibut, leaving slightly undercooked in olive oil over medium flame

In another large, deep skillet, heat another 3-4 Tablespoons of olive oil, adding about 3 Tablespoons garam masala spice mix. Slightly cook the spice combination
Add garlic and shallots, sauté.
Add the chopped red pepper, ginger & lemongrass. Continue to sauté.
Add coconut milk and tomato sauce, let cook for 3-4 minutes. Sauce will start to thicken
Add cumin, curry powder, cardamom and ground coriander. Continue cooking.
Add lime juice and salt to taste.
Toss in 2/3 cup of the cilantro, adding back the halibut pieces and any juice.
Let fish warm in the sauce.

Serve over rice pilaf or couscous or quinoa or brown rice. Garnish with cilantro.

Sunday, October 25, 2009



Sometimes when spending time in Ojai, I feel as if I’ve stepped into the enchanted valley where Brigadoon was nestled. Ojai Valley is a jewel box filled with gems such as lavender fields, orange and lemon groves, music under the stars and pink moments off the Topa Topa mountains. The people are warm and friendly. The charming town offers fine dining and great shops, all with an artistic flair. But the dazzling, many-faceted diamond amid all these jewels is the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, an oasis of heavenly beauty and earthly delights.

In August I shared a birthday with President Obama, and Richard planned a romantic getaway at the Inn. The Inn itself is a stunning reflection of California’s Spanish mission heritage. Our elegant room had a dark wood four-poster covered with lush linens and pillows, a stucco fireplace and luxurious fabrics in yellows and blues. Our large balcony overlooked the Inn’s manicured, 18-hole golf course. A cheese platter with fresh crusty bread and fruit was waiting for us.

After cocktails in the Inn’s pub, we dined under a vine-covered trellis on the terrace of the Inn’s Oak Grill restaurant. Our table faced the Topa Topas and, as we sipped our Cambria chardonnay, we were treated to a fleeting pink moment. For those glorious few seconds, the mountains turned a lovely shade of rose before they subtly turned blue-gray as the sun faded behind the horizon.

Executive chef Jamie West’s menu is comprised of ‘starters’ that are interesting blends of California cuisine and old favorites, from ahi tuna tartar with avocado, crispy wonton and a ginger soy dressing to chilled jumbo shrimp cocktail. His entrees are ‘grill’ favorites with a twist, and range from USDA prime NY steak with mushroom bread pudding, grilled asparagus and a cabernet sauce to oven roasted natural chicken breast with mushroom barley risotto, swiss chard and cider bourbon glaze.

I started with a chilled cantaloupe, mint, pineapple blended soup with lavender infused honey, bits of pineapple and a dollop of crème fraiche. A taste of liquid ‘sherbet’ to tease the palette. Richard chose the farmer’s market salad of greens with Granny Smith apples, candied walnuts, goat cheese, pickled red onions and apple cider vinaigrette. A tangy and fresh combination of tastes and textures.

The sky was dark and the terrace lights glowed, as did the candle on our table when our entrees arrived. Because I had been dreaming of lobster, I chose for my main course the butter-poached Maine lobster tail on a bed of lobster risotto, crisp pork belly and savory cabbage. This was so delicious that lobster and risotto now fill my culinary dreams.

Richard decided to switch his wine choice to a Melville pinot noir when he chose the natural Kurobuto pork loin with a port wine reduction for his entrée. The pork, seared on the grill, came with garlic mashed potatoes, red cabbage and gala apple chutney. When I tasted the dish, I decided I could just pour the port wine sauce in a glass and sip it like, uh, port. Pork Port – the new after dinner ‘aperitif.’

To finish the meal, we shared the crème brulee with that Oak Grill “twist”… a cookie underneath and a bit of cinnamon gelato on top. Delicious.

Back in our room and before crawling into that big four-poster, we curled up on the cushioned bench on our outdoor patio and gazed at the stars. The perfect end to a perfect birthday. Complete with a Brigadoon moon.

The next morning -- coffee, rolls and the NY Times out on the terrace...



While tooling around town today, Richard and I decided to try the new brasserie on Ventura Blvd. in our little Studio City, Calif. hamlet.

It's name: Bokado Market-Brasserie (Bokado is Spanish for little tastes or something like that) --

Anyway, the restaurant is a Spanish influenced brasserie with an elegant, but simply designed room and a large outdoor patio with a canopy of umbrellas surrounded by a lovely array of potted plants. Inside there’s a long bar with its own tapas menu on a blackboard which includes a paella on Tues. and Thurs. Two long bar-height tables with tall chairs for a communal eating experience are set up end-to-end in the middle of the room, and regular restaurant tables line the front window overlooking the patio and blvd.

The lunch menu is diverse – Richard had the burrata panini, with handmade burrata cheese, serrano ham, tomato, basil, tons of garlic and market greens... My taste buds did a happy flamenco when I had a bite! The sandwich came with terrific skinny, string french fries and fresh, homemade ketchup.

I had their ‘classic’ Caesar salad with chicken, though I take issue with the ‘classic’ adjective since the salad had no anchovies which is a traditional ingredient and the original salad never had chicken, but I digress. This version of a ‘classic’ Caesar was pretty good, even though the tender, moist chicken was cold and when I touched the plate it was apparent it just came out of the refrigerator. I prefer my Caesar with those anchovies and the chicken hot off the grill. So, as good as it was, it still was a miss for me.

One of the side dishes for lunch or dinner on the menu is mac & cheese with manchego - a Spanish cheese that I can't wait to try -- hopefully after I lose 100 pounds.

Dinners include a variety of salads: from a Jess salad comprised of oxnard, strawberries, Asian pears, romaine, croutons and grilled chicken to an heirloom beet salad with triple cream cheese and market greens. Soups include onion soup gratinee with caramelized onions and manchego crustini (I really have to try that when it’s not 100 degrees outside)… then there are crab cakes, steamed mussels in pernod with saffron & fennel and a cheese tasting -- all appetizers. Among the entrees is a selection of certified angus steaks (a petite filet, a NY strip, and a rib eye) with a choice of sauces from bearnaise to chimuchurri to maytag blue cheese. For fish lovers, there are scallops with a vegie relish, squash and charred calarmari (ok, my taste memory is dragging me out the door and back to the restaurant to try this dish), seared Alaskan halibut in a bed of white bean cassoulet with a jamon serrano (basically a Spanish prosciutto), a few other fish and chicken dishes, lamb and pork chops and sides of creamed spinach, potato gratinee, wild mushrooms, broccoli parmesan with bacon, market vegies and those hand cut fries among them.

There's also a 'deli' counter with artisan cheeses and all kinds of breads/baguettes.

I really liked this place.

Bokado Market-Brasserie
12345 Ventura Blvd.
Studio City, CA 91604

Friday, October 23, 2009

DINNER IN L.A. - Chapter 3

a short story in three chapters

Chapter 3

The helicopters made a wide sweep over PCH and the ocean, then back over our hillside. Had they come to check out my rooftop body? Effie did say the police would be here “any minute.” Was a dangerous criminal on the loose… a new hillside strangler? Did the strangler murder the man in the Hawaiian shirt? We bandied these thoughts around until Jim noticed that, except for some police cars, PCH was void of traffic. We all looked down on the empty highway, then saw a stream of headlights in the distance. As the lights got closer, we realized that this was just another high (or low) speed chase. We decided to go into the house so we could continue our scintillating conversation without having to scream over the incessant chopper engine noise.

We gathered in the living room, as Susan brought out a sinfully rich chocolate cake from the latest trendy bakery. I don’t do desserts (the only food vice I don’t have) so I plopped down on the sofa facing the view that was unobstructed by a wall of windows and sipped my wine. The helicopters continued to circle and when they were over the ocean, total blackness behind them, they appeared to be eye level, giving me the sensation that I was hovering in a plane. I wondered what would happen if someone in one of the helicopters discovered my body and alerted the others. Would they try to land on the roof, ruining a possible crime scene, or would they tape it for the 11:00 news? Probably both--- this is L.A., after all.

We endured the muffled noise for another ten minutes before the helicopters left, presumably because the high (or low) speed chase was over. We didn’t bother to turn on the TV. After watching O. J. in his white Bronco all those years ago, the chases just seem redundant now, though local news never seems to tire of them as they try to recreate that O. J. drama. They don’t seem to get the fact that we watched that chase because it was O. J. Duh!

Back outside I grabbed another piece of now-cold pizza and was surprised that the rock music was no longer blasting from below. We were all laughing as Carol told us about her latest ad campaign for a “feminine hygiene” product that was using the slogan “A Rose By Any Other Name,” when we heard a gun shot. Automatically, we hit the deck (a practiced reflex in L.A.), but after lying on cold flagstone for a few minutes our southern California comfort trumped our fear, so we got up. Ben brazenly looked over the edge of the terrace and began to laugh. We rushed over to see what was so funny and saw that a movie screen had been added to one end of the faux Neutra house’s cement terrace. Bridge chairs were arranged in rows in front of it and the catered party guests were watching an old black and white gangster movie. Bogie appeared on screen, drew a gun and fired, the shot reverberating off the hillside. I half expected to see my rooftop body get up and return fire. But he continued to lay motionless and alone.

It had been a few hours since I first called 911 and I was getting angry. Why hadn’t the police come to investigate? Where was the CSI team or medical examiner? Didn’t anyone but me care about Mr. Hawaiian Shirt?

I again took out my cell and dialed 911, ready to give whomever a piece of my mind. Effie was still on duty. She was silent as I vented my frustration for a full minute. Finally, she cut me off.

“Look lady, yours is not the only dead body in L.A.”

That said it all. I hung up and grabbed another piece of pizza. This time I tried the arugula and pine nuts.

The End.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

DINNER IN L.A. - Chapter 2

a short story in three chapters

Chapter 2

Though daylight was dimming, Susan scrounged up a pair of binoculars for a better look as the others all stared at the motionless body. No one thought he was dead except me. Ben suggested I’d been writing crime stories far too long and that the man was probably a “B” movie director resting after a long day dealing with petulant actors and uncreative studio heads. Jim asked why a “B” movie director giving Ben an opening to expound on his theory that “B” movie directors wore colorful Hawaiian shirts as a cheerful uniform to brighten their glum days of incessant studio interference. He went on to explain that “A” movie directors who get “final cut” tend to favor calm, monochromatic polo shirts except Quentin Tarantino, of course, who dresses like an accountant from Bakersfield. Everyone actually thought seriously about this for a minute until Carol wondered if the man was in the midst of a new kabala meditation exercise. Jim thought the guy was probably stretching out his back muscles after too many hours at the gym.

Susan looked through the binoculars and focused.

“I think his eyes are open,” she said as she handed them to me. I looked through the lenses. His eyes were open. I watched carefully for 30 seconds. They didn’t blink.

“OK, smarty,” I said as I gave the binoculars to Ben. “You tell me what director, “A” or “B” lies on his back at dusk, not moving, staring at the sky not blinking. That guy’s deader than a Neiman-Marcus mannequin.”

Ben looked. Bob, Carol and Jim looked. They all looked at me. I got my cell and dialed 911. After a dozen rings (the operators were probably on latte breaks) an upbeat “Britney” finally answered, convincing me that women named “Vera” should answer emergency calls. It strikes me as odd and a bit scary that so many years after the advent of the women’s movement, an abundance of bubbly Lindsays, Chelseas and Tiffanys are being groomed as the nation’s future CEOs. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind those names as long as they don’t end in “i” with a little heart over it, but not that long ago there was a certain dignity to a woman’s name… solid, practical and somehow comforting. No-nonsense names like Nora, Agnes and Harriet. Even when new parents back then reached for the fanciful or poetic, they picked names like Rose, Ivy, Fern, Pearl, Ruby, Opal... names rooted or dug out of the earth. I wondered if this was an L.A. phenomenon. Were there more Idas than Ashleys in America’s heartland?

I snapped out of my musing and explained to Britney who I was, where I was and what we saw. Cheerfully, she thanked me for calling, promising to report my body (well, not my body, Hawaiian shirt’s body) to the nearest police precinct. She then told me to have a nice day.

My day had been a wash, but the evening was showing promise. I had done my civic duty and now our little party had something to talk about other than work or lack, thereof. We wondered who “he” was, if in fact he was a director or even in show business. Usually we automatically assume as much… L.A. is a company town, after all. But maybe he was a drifter picked up by a buxom blonde and lured to that rooftop to be murdered in a real-life film noir… well “noir” anyway.

Noir? Suddenly I had an uncontrollable urge for pinot noir, so I filled my glass and gorged on chips and guacamole (an L.A. staple) until the pizza finally arrived. Not New York’s wonderfully artery-clogging sausage and pepperoni pizza, but California nouvelle pizza--- barbeque chicken… arugula and pine nuts… goat cheese with sun-dried tomatoes. I actually like these pizzas, but I’d definitely move back to Manhattan if the pizza joints in L.A. started making tofu pizza. They can make Prozac pizza or kid’s pizza with Ritalin (heaven forbid we Angelenos be seen as hyper or edgy), but tofu… my transplanted New York mind just couldn’t get behind that.

Led Zeppelin was now blasting from the catered party below, drowning the mellow jazz of Miles Davis’ “Sketches In Spain” wafting out of Susan and Jim’s open French doors. Rather than compete, Jim turned Miles off as we ate our pizza and continued to wonder who the man was lying prone on a Malibu rooftop.

The sun was now down. I sat on a lounge chair next to Ben and bit into my slice of goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes. I had already eaten two barbeque chicken slices, so I wanted a new taste bud experience. Being outside, sipping wine and eating fancy pizza, little lights shining in the terrace’s sweet-smelling fruit trees and candles glowing in and outside the house, reminded me just how seductive L.A. can be.

Talk turned to politics, the second favorite topic of conversation in a town filled with Hollywood-types who want to sleep in the Lincoln bedroom, but by the time I was on my fifth piece of pizza (did I mention how much I love pizza?) the topic returned to the “industry”… whose TV series was ending… whose marriage was ending… yada, yada, yada.

I got up to check on the man with the Hawaiian shirt. The glow of the lights shining up from PCH offered just enough illumination to see that the body was still there… still in the same position… still not moving. It had been more than an hour since I called 9ll, so I called again. This time “Effie” answered the phone, a definite Vera-type making me believe I was now in competent hands. After repeating my story, Effie put me on hold, then returned and assured me that the police had been notified… they would be there any minute. Happily, she did not wish me a nice day.

Suddenly, news and police helicopters were circling above, light beams shining down the hill and onto the highway, the noise of their engines eliminating all ambient sounds, including the rock music from below.

To be continued…

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

DINNER IN L.A. - a short story in three chapters

Chapter 1

I wasn’t looking forward to dinner. I didn’t want to drive to Malibu. I didn’t want to be social. But, Ben wanted to go. He was writing a new TV show and Susan, his executive producer, was hosting with her husband, Jim, a successful production designer. Pizza! Normally, I love pizza and I like Susan and her husband well enough, but I was cranky. I had recently been hired to write for a freshman sitcom called “Women in Jail” (not a topic that instantly springs to mind as a situation comedy) but, before my contract was even entered into a computer, surprise, surprise… the show was cancelled. Job security--- not a show biz perk.

So, not more than two hours after receiving this career-crushing news, we were going to an impromptu dinner with people who were gainfully employed. Who needed that?! Ben wasn’t trying to be insensitive. He truly thought that being with some friends, eating my favorite food and drinking some good California merlot would take my mind off my disappointment. Ha! We’d been married nearly ten years and it still bewildered me that he knew so little about my emotional vicissitudes. How could he not know that I wanted to wallow in my misery for at least 24 hours?

When we arrived and walked out to the beautiful flagstone terrace, I was surprised to see another couple standing by the bar. Now, not only did I have to put on a happy face for two people I knew, I’d have to smile and talk to two people I didn’t know and didn’t want to know. At least not tonight. They’d ask us what we did. We would tell them we’re writers. Ben would regale them with stories from the latest show he was working on, but when they asked me what I was working on, what would be my gracious and witty reply? Nothing?

The new couple was dressed in black, the uniform of wealthy west side L.A. The guy had on black trousers and a black polo shirt… she a black mini-skirt, black tee and black Jimmy Choo sandals. Ben at least blended in, with his black linen shirt and faded jeans (always appropriate in L.A.). With my faded jeans I’d worn a white linen shirt. I was wearing strappy leopard sandals, however, which gave my “ensemble” a throw-away Melrose Avenue “cred.” But being unemployed, which breeds insecurity (an L.A. malady), I mourned my lack of black.

Jim offered me a glass of merlot and I took a big gulp as Susan introduced us to Bob and Carol, friends from Susan’s Boston PBS days. A documentary producer, Bob had happily “sold out” to work in reality television, producing such shows as “Fantasy Family” and “Kids Take Over.” Carol worked in advertising. After the initial greeting and shaking of hands came the inevitable--- Bob asked me what I did. I told him I was a television writer.

“Really,” he replied. “What are you working on?”

I took another big gulp of wine. “I’m in development,” I answered… a euphemism for nothing.

Bob laughed. “Me, too. I’m developing my golf game.”

I decided the evening might be salvaged and sipped my wine with ladylike flourish.

Susan and Jim’s house sat on a cliff with a spectacular view of the ocean. And, if you looked down their sloping hillside property, you could see the Pacific Coast Highway and the rooftops of houses lower on the hill.

Ben and Susan were in the midst of some anecdote I’d heard a dozen times, so I grabbed a handful of chips (my second favorite food group) and walked over to the edge of the terrace. The sun was setting and the sky was filled with shocking pink clouds along the ocean horizon. Cars were rushing up and down PCH and I wondered if any of the drivers noticed the vivid sunset, or whether they were too busy talking on their cell phones. Directly below, black-clad guests at a catered party mingled around a lap pool in the middle of a drab cement patio attached to a sprawling 60’s “modern” house. Tall, skinny Cyprus trees surrounded the industrial-style terrace. I hate those trees… too thin, like most of L.A.

As if to coordinate with the house, 60’s rock music drifted upward as a few of the partygoers danced around the uninviting pool (though how the women managed in ridiculously skinny four inch heels was a mystery). I tried to imagine the owners of such an ugly house… definitely entertainment lawyers (who else would buy an over-priced Motel 6), when my eyes drifted to the neighboring rooftop of the faux-Neutra designed monstrosity. There, lying on his back, spread eagle in the middle of the roof was a man in jeans and a Hawaiian shirt. He wasn’t moving. I watched for a few minutes, but still no movement, so I called for everyone to come quickly, there was a dead body below. Why I said “quickly,” I haven’t a clue.  If the man was dead, he certainly wasn’t going anywhere in the immediate future.

To be continued…

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Friends were coming for dinner and, of course, Richard was cooking. In the mood for salmon, he planned his menu… a lemon theme (we have a tree with a lot of lemons). While he was at the market I “prettied-up” the house, dressed the deck and dining room tables and picked a gazillion lemons.

The evening was beautiful so we all gathered outside on the deck by the pool. Candles on the table complemented the twinkling garden lights that reflected off the pool. A slight hum from the freeway sounded like ocean waves, so in my mind we weren’t on a cottage deck in the San Fernando Valley, but on the deck of a home on the beach in Malibu with lights flickering off the Pacific from a distant ship on its way to some far off exotic land. Oh, well, a girl can fantasize, right?

As we all caught up on our lives, liberties and pursuits of happiness, we sipped pinot noir and spread Blue Castello or wonderfully ripe brie on slices of baguette, then drizzled some of that white truffle oil on top that we still had from our Epicure Gourmet Warehouse sale ‘adventure.’ Also on our appetizer tray was a Patricia Wells’ tuna dip with lemon (recipe below) that Richard had made earlier that day which is easy, absolutely delicious AND inexpensive.

In the dining room, more candles glowed as Richard served his main course, the fabulous Giada De Laurentiis dish of salmon in lemon brodetto with pea puree (recipe below). A crusty loaf of bread was on the table for soaking up the broth. I love this dish and was hoping for leftovers. But there wasn’t a flake of salmon, a dab of pea puree or a drop of broth left.

For dessert Richard made Joan’s (of Joan’s On Third restaurant) lemon bars. You can find the recipe at Ms. Butterton’s wonderful food blog:

Dinner over, guests gone, dishes done and now in bed I drifted off to sleep feeling the ocean breeze sweeping through the window off my Malibu beach home deck. Oh, well, a girl can fantasize, right?


One 6-1/2 oz can tuna packed in olive oil
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
Freshly grated zest from one lemon
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons EVOO
½ teaspoon dried oregano
Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
1 plump fresh garlic clove, peeled

Breadsticks, crackers or toasted slices of baguette brush w/ EVOO for serving


Place tuna, including the oil, in a food processor.
Add remaining ingredients, except for bread, crackers, etc.
Process/blend until smooth and creamy
Transfer to bowl and serve or refrigerate.

If you refrigerate, remove one hour before serving and mix well.

This can be made up to 3 days before serving.


Lemon Brodetto

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot, diced
2 lemons, juiced
1 lemon, zested
2 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint leaves

Pea Puree

2 cups frozen peas, thawed (about 10 oz)
¼ cup fresh mint leaves
1 clove garlic
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup EVOO
½ cup grated Parmesan


¼ cup olive oil
4 (4 to 6 oz) pieces of salmon
freshly ground black pepper


To make the Lemon Brodetto, warm the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté until tender (about 7 minutes). Add the lemon juice, zest, and broth. Bring to a simmer, and keep warm, covered, over low heat.

To make the Pea Puree, combine the peas, mint, garlic, salt and pepper in a food processor and puree. With the machine running, add the olive oil in a steady drizzle. Transfer the pea puree to a small bowl and stir in the Parmesan. Set aside.

To make the Salmon, warm the olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over high heat. Season the salmon pieces w/ salt and pepper. Sear the salmon until a golden crust forms… about 4 to 5 minutes on the first side – flip the fish and continue cooking until medium-rare, about 2 minutes more depending on the thickness of the fish.

To assemble the dish, add the tablespoon of chopped mint to the Lemon Brodetto and divide between 4 shallow soup bowls or dishes. Place a large spoonful of Pea Puree in the center of each bowl, then place a salmon piece atop each mound of Pea Puree.

Serve immediately.
Richard made the Lemon Brodetto before our friends arrived and the Pea Puree earlier in the day which he refrigerated, then just heated up as he was making the salmon.

Monday, October 19, 2009


Ever on the search for a great burger, a friend took Richard and me to the latest LA burger phenom: Umami Burger. The last time we all took a ‘trendy’ burger excursion to the latest ‘trendy’ restaurant – oops, excuse me, it’s a ‘bar’ (see Burger Nazi) turned out to be a dreadful experience so I wasn’t expecting this latest ‘trendy’ burger to amount to a hill of beans.

I was wrong. It was a hill of beans and more.

The restaurant, a simple unadorned place with a minimalist Asian feel, is strictly a burger joint, albeit gourmet burgers. The first thing I asked: “What’s a Umami burger? I mean really “Umami?” Que pasa? Michael, our young and ‘burger-informed’ waiter, along with Kevin, another young member of the wait staff, explained. It’s the 5th taste: salty, sweet, sour, bitter and ‘umami’ … OK… “Umami?” Savory? Meaty? Are they Japanese burgers? They tried to enlighten me, but I was still in the dark, so I decided I had to have the signature Umami burger to see if I could figure it out.

The menu promises that ‘you will crave this one.’ The menu was right. The burger had among its toppings parmesan crisps, sun-dried tomatoes, sauteed shitaki mushrooms and caramelized onions on a really terrific burger bun and was one of the best burgers I’ve ever had. I mean EVAH! The meat was cooked to juicy perfection, red but not raw, and every taste blended together like a well designed room. But I could not detect that 5th taste. I even tried researching it on-line when I got home and read something about a natural MSG used to enhance the meat’s flavor. But, it was more than that. The meat was different. More ‘meaty’ perhaps. I don’t know – but I do know that I have to go back for more.

Of course I couldn’t just try the Umami burger, I wanted tastes of some of the others on the menu, so Richard ordered the Port & Stilton burger w/ caramelized onions. Oh, my, be still my heart - stilton is one of my very most favorite cheeses. Stilton and port one of my very most favorite “desserts.” And married to a perfectly cooked, juicy burger was a marriage made in heaven.

Coming from New York, I never experienced lettuce, tomato and onion as a regular topping on a burger until we moved to LA. So when our friend ordered the SoCal burger (Southern California) with lettuce, tomato and caramelized onions, I thought, ‘Big deal.’ Well, it is a big deal. That 5th flavor thing, again.

This little burger joint also has “sides”… you know, like the one’s you get in most diners or coffee shops – things like fries and onions rings, but these sides are a tad different. The thick fries are hand cut and triple cooked and though they were good, they could have been cooked a little crisper (confession: I prefer skinny fries anyway, so I’m prejudiced) - the malt liquor tempura onion rings were, however, just plain delicious. Michael, the waiter also brought the restaurant’s Umami ketchup made with anchovies, Chinese spices and soy as well as the normal ketchup ingredients. Dipping a fry into this ketchup took that fry from a 6 to a 10.

Also included on the menu is a truffle beet salad, a market salad, a root beer float, ice cream sandwiches, real sodas and Mexican coke. Mexican coke? I didn’t ask.

Other burgers include the Manly burger w/ beer-cheddar cheese, smoked salt onion strings and bacon lardons, the Hatch burger with 4 types of green chiles and house cheese, Turkey Miso burger with Asian BBQ sauce and avocado relish, a Triple Pork burger made from fresh ground pork with chorizo and applewood smoked bacon, manchego cheese and pimento aioli, the Truffle burger with Italian truffle cheese and a truffle glaze and a Casablanca burger made with fresh ground leg of lamb, merguez lamb sausage, pickled apricots, arugula and pomegranate aioli...

As the Governator would say: “I’ll be back!”

Umami Burger
850 S. La Brea Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90036

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

THE GARDEN - a musing memory piece

I did my “roots” thing two summers ago and went back to my hometown to wander the tree-lined streets and relive old memories.  That place was Bayside, Queens, Long Island, New York and when I grew up there it was still considered a small-ish town. It even had a few old potato fields. Bayside was where I twirled my baton as I led P.S. 41’s band in the Memorial Day Parade, where my Girl Scout troop marched to Fort Totten on the 4th of July and where I studied dance at Miss Mildred’s neighborhood ballet school.

Bayside is where dad mowed the lawn in summer, burned leaves in the fall (before toxic fumes) and shoveled the driveway in winter, while mom sewed my dance costumes, made cookies and grilled Velveeta cheese sandwiches on Wonder bread. And in spring, magically, the gardens of each lovely two-story home in my neighborhood burst with vivid colors of blossoming hydrangeas, irises and daffodils. But I knew at an early age I was going to be a city girl one day, because the city had its own magical “garden.”

I was five years old the first time my parents took me to Madison Square Garden. The first thing I remember was being terrified as we made our way down the steep steps to our seats high up in the blue section. The height was dizzying and the energy in the air overpowering and I was sure I was going to plunge to my death. But my father saved me from that terrible fate when he took my arm and guided me to my seat.

Suddenly the lights went out and terror gripped me once again. In the darkness a booming voice announced, “Ladies and Gentlemen and children of all ages, welcome to the greatest show on earth.”

The lights flashed back on and music blared as elephants and horses charged into the arena, led by the most colorful, sparkling, beautiful people I had ever seen. I was no longer afraid, for I knew, at that moment, that this was a magical building.

That magic took on a new meaning when, as a Bayside H.S. cheerleader, I cheered for my team in the race for the NYC basketball championship. Thousands of students, teachers and parents filled the seats for that first play-off game. And there I was, in the middle of the floor of Madison Square Garden, not lying dead in the center ring as I had envisioned on my first visit, but kicking and cartwheeling myself into a frenzy. The score was 55-55. With only a second to go, my boyfriend took the pass, glided into the air and let loose a long hook shot. The buzzer sounded and everyone held their breath as the ball hit the backboard, then circled the rim. Around and around it went, but I knew it was going to go in. This was my magical building. The moment was intoxicating.

I didn’t get to feel that rush again until a few years later when a friend invited me to see the Knicks “live” for the first time. When I entered the Garden arena, I once more felt that intense surge of energy, giving me a thrill I’ve felt nowhere else on earth. As the Knicks played, the crowd’s cheers and groans were deafening.

Soon after, I discovered the Rangers. Hockey drew a different crowd from basketball... more dark suits and club ties... but the energy was the same.

Whether basketball or hockey... Connecticut commuters, gamblers, Wall Street manipulators, society ladies or homeboys… all lifted their voices in joy and agony in the Garden... their cries bouncing off the walls like a million Spaulding balls. Cheers at Shea and Giants Stadium can’t compete with the reverberating sound of rabid fans in the Garden. It’s a magical building.

Back in Bayside after so many years - my hometown no longer had potato fields, and the local movie theater where I spent every Saturday watching cartoons, westerns and Audrey Hepburn movies, eating Dots and buttered pop corn is now a multi-plex. My favorite mom and pop pizza place has been replaced by Pizza Hut or Dominos or both. White Castle now has to compete with Burger King, McDonald’s and Wendy’s and most of the small family businesses in town have closed, no longer able to compete with the shopping malls.  But nothing negated my happy memories.

This growth is happening all over America, but it won’t change who we are if we remember to water and nurture our children with their own joyous memories of gardens of cotton candy, clowns and basketball and we allow them to find their own magical “garden.”

And for disbelievers who say 'The Garden' is not the building, it’s the people in it, here’s one last tale… it was my first political convention as a press liaison. It was held in the Garden, and before the delegates were to arrive, I needed to check out the podium teleprompter. I left my office in the building’s bowels and walked into the arena. No one was there... not a workman, not a convention organizer, not a single secret service agent. I stood on the spot where Jimmy Carter would soon accept his party’s nomination for President, and as I looked around the expansive room, the air filled with exhilarating electricity. Suddenly I realized I wasn’t alone after all. The walls were alive. Bill Bradley and Rod Gilbert were there, Emmett Kelly was there and so was a “small” town cheerleader ready to spark her team on with new energy... we were all there, happy ghosts in the walls of the Garden.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


How to Throw A Wedding For Under Five Hundred Bucks

For the record, I’m not Mexican, I wasn’t getting married and the guest list was limited to fifty people…. But it was still my big fat Mexican wedding.

Back story: As most of you know, I’m a writer. Translation: I have a flexible schedule and a lot of time on my hands when the muse is hiding. Some years I ago I volunteered in a after school tutoring program. It was there that I met an adorable third grader, a Mexican-American girl Richard and I “adopted” in our hearts and lives.

A couple of years ago our “daughter” called.  She was getting married in four weeks… and, because her family couldn’t afford to give her a wedding, she and her fiancé were going to City Hall. Could we join them?

OK. That’s nice. Following in my footsteps. My first wedding had been in City Hall. The operative word here is “first.” But lots of City Hall marriages turn out fine, right?!? To make sure this was what she really wanted, however, I had to ask if she’d prefer a garden wedding at our house. Without a moment’s hesitation, her answer was “yes.”

So, now we were hosting a wedding. In 30 days!!!

Because we live in a California bungalow (translation: not a McMansion), we have a smallish backyard, dominated by a pool. The guest list needed to be limited. No problem. A wedding, no matter how small, is a celebration.

Did I mention that Richard and I are both writers? Translation: no fancy caterer or wedding planners. Not to worry.  As you've all gathered by now, Richard is a fabulous cook and as my 'bio' proudly states, I had been an “on-air, guest design consultant/decorative artist for HGTV (how’s that for a credit?). Again, no problem! Well, Richard might not agree since I decided to use every white linen table cloth my grandmother left me, none of which was pressed. But they were free! He definitely disagreed when I decided, two weeks before the wedding, to finally paint the dressers in our ‘shabby chic’ bedroom. OK, so I had a couple of problems.

While I ironed a kazillion tablecloths, I decided to further cut wedding costs. No paper plates! I’ve been collecting antique dishes since college, so have more than enough mix-match Limoge, Lenox and Staffordshire to fill a china shop. I also have plenty of silver-plated mix-match cutlery. (If I didn’t, I would have borrowed what I needed from friends.) Glasses would have to be plastic, though. It’s one thing if a plate broke and fell into the pool… but clear glass? Broken in the pool? Nope. However, I didn’t think anyone would mind this bow to picnic-ware.

The bride’s mom offered to make a few potato/pasta dishes. The groom’s mom would bring sodas, waters and salads. We would provide some food, the champagne for the toasts, white wine and the wedding cake.

Finding the perfect cake turned out to be our “only in LA” story. We interviewed bakers and tasted their confections, but everything we liked was more than we budgeted. Our search ended with the woman who made the cake for Eva Longhoria’s wedding on “Desperate Housewives.” Baker to the stars. Now that’s a credit! She loved our bride and groom story and gave us the two-tiered red velvet cake we wanted at the price we could afford. We had our perfect cake.

After consulting two dozen cookbooks and quizzing our “culinary” friends, Richard decided to make a Waldorf salad, grill tri-tips with a chimichurri sauce and poached salmon with a mustard-dill sauce. The salmon and sauces could be made the day before. Always a plus when planning a big party.

We scoured our local nurseries for flowering plants to dress up our garden. I plopped a potted pink hydrangea onto a wooden chair with peeling green paint. I tacked straw hats and vintage paintings on the fence and draped an antique quilt on an old painted screen door that leans against the fence. Very cottage-y. Very Provence.

Richard programmed some music into his ipod. Who needs a DJ?

The morning of the wedding I dressed the outside tables, including a borrowed banquet table set under the trees, with the ironed linen. Richard slapped eight pounds of tri-tip on the grill. The dining room table was set. Serving dishes a-ready. China and silverware arranged on the buffet.

At noon, the cake arrived and we set it in its place of honor in the dining room. By 2:00 the florist, paid for by the bride’s parents, arrived with centerpieces, boutonnieres and bouquets.

The mother-of-the-bride arrived with two enormous bowls of pasta and potato salad. But, don’t forget… this was a big fat Mexican wedding. Translation: you can never have enough food. So, along with the pasta and salad, she made about fifty sandwiches on little dinner rolls, “just in case” and brought an extra hundred rolls as “back-up.” Father-of-the-bride brought in a half-dozen coolers filled with an array of sodas, sparkling and flat waters. A minute later, the groom’s mother walked in with Caesar salads, cut veggies, and a variety of empanadas, “just in case.” One guest brought croissant sandwiches, another brought platters of sushi and fruit to go along with the cheeses and strawberries we had already put out as “appetizers.” We had everything from sushi to nuts. Literally. I ran out of serving dishes.

Soon everyone had arrived. Richard cranked up the ipod and classical music filled the air as the bride and her attendants walked down the “aisle” alongside the pool to the waiting groom. The ceremony was beautiful. It was in Spanish for the bride’s parents and, though I didn’t understand a word, I understood the “I do’s” and cried. I, too, was a “mother-of-the-bride.” The groom dipped his new wife as he kissed her. Everyone cheered. Time to toast. To eat. To dance by the pool. And when it was over, I went in the kitchen to start doing dishes, but the bride’s mom and sister were already there. A brother-in-law was stripping the tables. Another was sweeping up. There was little for me to do. I kicked off my shoes and had another glass of wine. By eleven o’clock everyone was gone, but just before our darling “daughter” left, I asked her if her day was all she hoped for. With tears in her eyes, she told me “It was perfect!”

Wedding: $490. Our “daughter’s” happiness: Priceless.

Que mas puedes pedir? Translation: What more can you ask?

New Pix

Hey everyone --

Finally added pix to some of my blog 'essays' -- so... when you get a chance I hope you'll scroll down and take a look.

Monday, October 12, 2009


Favorite friends came for Sunday supper last night.

As Richard sliced, diced and Cuisinart-ed in the kitchen, I decided to set the table with one of my vintage white tea cloths… that is until I looked in my ‘vintage white tea cloth drawer’ and saw that they all needed ironing. Now, ironing for me is only one step above root canal, but I love the look of a small tea cloth square that leaves a good portion of our rustic, pine farm table showing. What to do… drag out the ironing board or try to convince our friends that wrinkled tea cloths are the new black?

But wait! As I rummaged through the drawer I found the solution hiding at the bottom: an off-white (translation: very aged), embroidered linen blanket cover that my grandmother had given my mom for my baby stroller. I had totally forgotten about it. I mean really…who has linen baby-pram blanket covers? Well, it seems I do. I put the blanket cover in the middle of the table. Perfect! It left just enough of the pine wood exposed. Continuing my white ‘theme,’ I decided to use my white English ‘heirloom’ ironstone dishes, but threw in a bit of color by using navy blue and brown linen bandana squares as napkins. I dragged out the sterling silverware and antique, gold-rimmed wine glasses (one of my great flea market finds), put white candles in my painted white iron and crystal candle sticks (another flea market find), found a few things around the house for a centerpiece and voila! Farm table formal!

When our friends arrived we settled in the living room for appetizers.

A few weeks ago, Richard and I went to an Epicure Warehouse gourmet sale where we got a taste of blue cheese on a slice of baguette with white truffle oil drizzled on top. If I could have afforded it, I would have bought every bottle of that oil, but we did buy one and last night we served it on a sliced baguette with Blue Castello. Richard also made a creamy tuna spread and a sweet pea dip. A cheddar cheese with caramelized onions completed the appetizer tray. The wine was a chilled Souverain chardonnay, a lovely, moderately priced California wine.

For the main course, Richard made cod in a Pernod broth with veggies (recipe below) and a side of quinoa (Richard's new favorite - it's OK for me)... For dinner our friends brought a superb bottle of 2004 BV Georges De Latour private reserve cab which was absolutely delicious.

Dessert was an olive oil cake to die for that Richard had made the day before, paired with a cup of Vosges Haut-Chocolat, La Parisienne hot chocolate to sip as a complement to the cake. The combination was heavenly.

The guests left, the table was cleared and Richard went off to our library to watch the end of the Yankee game he DVR’d. Me? I had appetizer dishes, white ‘heirloom’ ironstone dishes, silverware, flea market wine glasses, dessert dishes and my mother’s bone china English tea cups to wash… a small price to pay for an evening with good friends, good food and a spectacular wine.


1 tablespoon olive oil
1 fennel bulb, trimmed, thinly sliced
4 slender asparagus, cut diagonally into 1-inch pieces
6 baby carrots, peeled, cut diagonally into ¼-inch-thick ovals
4 shallots, thinly sliced (about ½ cup)
2 cups bottled clam juice
¼ cup Pernod or other anise-flavored liqueur
5 fresh basil sprigs
5 fresh dill sprigs
4 fresh tarragon sprigs
4 5-to-6 ounce halibut or cod fillets
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon chilled butter

Heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium heat.

Add fennel, asparagus, carrots and shallots; sauté until crisp-tender (about 5-7 minutes).

Transfer vegetables to bowl.

Add clam juice, Pernod, and herbs to the same skillet; bring to a boil. Add halibut or cod fillets. Reduce heat to very low, cover, and simmer until fish is just opaque in the center (about 10 minutes).

Using slotted spoon, transfer fish to large shallow soup bowls.

Return vegetables to the skillet. Add lemon juice and butter; stir until butter melts. Season with salt and pepper, then spoon warm vegetables and broth over the fish.

Makes 4 servings.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


As some of you might remember, a few years ago my husband and I started a Gourmet Group with three other couples who love to cook as much as he does. And I say “he” – because I’m a decent cook, but don’t love doing it. I do love to eat, though. For these dinners we alternate houses. The host couple chooses the “theme,” makes the entree and assigns the remaining courses with the caveat that we bring the appropriate beverage (translation: wine or cocktail) for our course. “Themes” have been as diverse as “white, spice food from below the Equator” to “Provencal” and “Tuscan” to “dishes made from Trade Joe ingredients only.” However, our very first Gourmet Group theme was “Julia Child with a California Twist.”

To toast our maiden dinner voyage, the hosts handed each of us a glass of vintage champagne as we arrived, while the appetizer couple got their course ready. Soon creamy, cheese-y individual quiches made with Julia’s favorite ingredient - ‘butter’ - were in our hands. But they didn’t stay there long as we teased our taste buds with every bite, accompanied by the chosen wine - a very chilled pinot gris. Not a traditional choice to complement quiche, but the perfect California cuisine twist of cold, fruity liquid for the warm, velvety, cheesy solid.

The candles lighted, we went into the dining room for a first course of rich, ‘buttery’ vichyssoise. The soup’s twist? Scallops. If I could sing, I would have. The taste and texture mix was heavenly. The wine chosen was a gewurtzaminer. Again, an untraditional choice, but one that worked wonderfully with the soup.

Julia’s classic Caesar salad which got its American ‘premiere’ in California was next. To quote Julia:

“I am probably one of the few people around who saw the real Caesar
Cardini making his salad. I was about 9 when my parents took me to his restau-
rant in Tijuana, just the other side of the border from San Diego. They were so
excited when big jolly Caesar himself came to the table to make the salad, which
had already been written up and talked about everywhere. And it was dramatic:
I remember most clearly the eggs going in, and how he tossed the leaves so that
it looked like a wave turning over.”

Cardini lived in San Diego, but cooked in Tijuana to avoid the prohibition laws back then. It wasn’t long, however, before California chefs were copying it. Julia’s version is quite close to the original (see her “The Way To Cook” cookbook) and the fresh lemon and garlic flavors went beautifully with the Cuvaison chardonnay that accompanied it. The California twist? The romaine and lemon were from California!

The entrée was an amazing array of Copper River salmon and Alaskan salmon cooked three ways. A whole fillet of Copper River salmon was braised with herbs in a river of ‘butter’ and white French vermouth and served with local aromatic diced carrots, onions and celery slowly cooked in butter. The Alaskan salmon was poached in California white wine and butter and served with roasted potatoes and vegetables. Again, all local California produce. The third preparation was baked salmon coated with crushed California walnuts. The wine - David Bruce pinot noir. I’m with Julia… everything’s better with butter!

My husband and I were up next. Dessert! And since we’re all suckers for chocolate, we made Julia’s favorite - Queen of Sheba chocolate cake (recipe can be found on-line). I now understand why it’s her favorite. Chocolate and ‘butter’! Our California twist. Well, we made it in our very own California kitchen. You shouldn’t fool with perfection. To sip between bites of this chocolate perfection we broke open a bottle of Taylor Fladgate port.

Remembering that meal and seeing “Julie & Julia” recently – I’ve decided I have to spend more nights interpreting Julia. Well, watching my husband interpreting Julia. I can almost smell the melting butter.

Friday, October 9, 2009


You may not have heard of her but Therese Makowsky was a master cook. After escaping France over the mountains and into Spain during the Nazi invasion, she moved to America with her husband and children. She eventually found herself in Pomfret Connecticut where she and her husband, Jacques Makowsky, owned and operated Idle Wild Farm. At the farm they cross-bred the White Plymouth Rock hen and a Malayan fighting cock and ‘discovered’ the Rock Cornish Game Hen which they marketed to fine-dining restaurants such as the 21 Club in New York City, known simply as “21."

As I mentioned, Therese was a master cook and soon the best chefs in the country would know just how good she was. In her kitchen at Idle Wild Therese experimented and soon developed Rock Cornish Game Hen gourmet recipes that she shared with those fine-dining restaurants’ head chefs.

But Therese was not a food snob. With limited time (raising a family, concocting recipes and helping to run Idle Wild Farm) so familiar to today’s working mothers, she also collected or invented quick and easy recipes for those who didn’t have time to spare in the kitchen.

It was a beautiful, snowy, Currier & Ives Christmas in Connecticut when I first tasted her “instant” pate. Being French, Therese loved pates, but they can take forever to make. So, when she didn’t have the time to make one from ‘scratch,’ she’d make the pate I had enjoyed that Christmas… a pate you make days before the party rush and only takes minutes to put together… a pate that I serve myself at our annual Christmas Eve party all these years later.

With the holiday season fast approaching, I thought I’d share her recipe.

Bon appetit.


¼ pound butter – melted
one package of liverwurst (sliced or rolled)
one teaspoon (or a little less) of Dijon mustard
one small can of Deviled Ham (yup, Deviled Ham)
sugar to taste (about a ¼ teaspoon)
dried herbs: ie: parsley, tarragon, basil
caramelized onions (optional)
shot of cognac (sherry, port, scotch or bourbon will do)

Mix well, put in a ramekin, cover (if you don’t have a lid, tin foil will do) and refrigerate for three (3) days before serving.